In 1906 a famous survey of the reading habits of Labour MPs revealed that their preferences were the Bible, Walter Scott and John Ruskin, with hardly a hint of Karl Marx. Nearly a century later, Jonathan Rose's The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes
goes a long way to explaining why. His book is a mammoth survey of the autodidact, self-improving culture that emerged in Britain in the late 18th century and flourished for nearly 200 years through religious tract societies, mechanics institutes, trade union libraries and the Workers' Educational Association, until the end of the Second World War. Using workers' autobiographies, social surveys and opinion polls, Rose has produced a rich compilation of evidence, depicting an elite within the working class suffused with Macaulay, Milton and Shakespeare, and contemptuous of romance fiction, the tabloids and sensationalist melodrama. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Roe argues that this self-taught culture produced a working class wary of Marxism (because it was badly written), but also bored by imperialist adventure tales (because they gestured to a world of which workers knew nothing). It is not always easy to follow Rose in his journey through the working-class canon--he is determined to take us into every corner of his library--but it is worth sticking with him. The revelations from his research are fascinating, and his subtle tilts against fashionable post-modernist readings of reading are funny and well placed.--Miles Taylor
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'Rose's book... has the great virtues of clarity, wit and pungent opinion... it deserves its place alongside Richard Hoggart and Martin Weiner - alongside the writers who have yielded important new insights into our cultural ancestry and who shed light on ourselves.' --Ian Jack, 'Daily Telegraph'
'A superb book... I found the experience of immersion in it to be lastingly moving - like reading the poetry of John Clare, say, or Thomas Gray.' --Christopher Hitchens, 'The Times'
'Rose's account represents a historical triumph... fascinatingly and passionately told.' --A. C. Grayling, Independent on Sunday
About the Author
Jonathan Rose is the founder and past president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing and coeditor of the journal 'Book History'.